Domestic violence victims seek help

By Stephanie Saviola

The poor economy has shown its effects in many areas of people’s lives, but women’s shelters throughout the city are starting to see a more dramatic change.

The victims who seek shelters for help, specifically those that are geared toward women of certain ethnic backgrounds, are seeing the biggest changes.

Apna Ghar, which translates to “Our Home,” is a shelter that serves female domestic abuse victims of Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern and North African descent.

“The economy is so bad in the United States, we are now seeing more Americans,” said Anuja Mehta, transitional housing coordinator and case manager for

Apna Ghar.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, women of all races are equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate partner. But with the diversity in the country and especially throughout the city, Chicago has a variety of shelters for women of different backgrounds.

“Normally, Apna Ghar is not the logical choice for American women because there are several other domestic violence shelters that feel more comfortable for them,” Mehta said. “It is a pretty logical connection that when the economy is bad, the stress level in families goes up and the breaking point for abusers is much sooner.”

According to Sabrina Hampton, a training consultant who works with court-mandated domestic violence abusers, there are only a total of 112 beds in shelters throughout the city.

“We have seen a significant increase of calls coming in since the economic crisis began,” said Debbie Korman, community educator for Shalva, an agency that deals with women who identify themselves or were involved with a partner who is Jewish. Shalva is the oldest agency for Jewish abuse victims.

The average stay at a shelter has climbed from 90 to 120 days to almost six months.

“We all kind of network together because it is important for counseling victims,” Korman said. “As a victim, you need an agency that understands culturally who you are. We always refer to an agency we feel best meets their cultural background.”

In the Chicago area, there are shelters that help women of Jewish, Korean, Latin, Middle Eastern and African backgrounds.

“Now all the [standard] domestic violence shelters are full, so more American women are turning to us,” Mehta said. “It is interesting to see how the population in our emergency shelter has changed from just one year ago.”

Mujeres Latinas en Accion, or “Latina Women in Action,” is a bilingual and bicultural free organization for domestic violence victims, although the majority of their clients are primarily Spanish-speaking victims. The agency mostly serves victims of Latin descent, but in the past year, the agency has been seeing changes as well.

“More clients from different communities have been coming to us,” said Claudia Segura, volunteer supervisor for Mujeres Latinas en Accion. “We will probably have more clients coming to us [from the aftermath of] in-state budget cuts.

The largest domestic violence shelter for women in the Chicago area is Family Rescue. The shelter has a screening process to determine how long a victim needs to stay at a shelter and the kind of help they will need for rehabilitation. Family Rescue is one shelter that is not specific to a cultural background.

Besides variations in ethnic backgrounds, there have been reports of an increase in female abusers as well.

“Reality is domestic violence happens to everyone,” said Lolita Sanders, assistant development director for Family Rescue. “Women can be abusers too, it is just very undetectable.”

The City of Chicago Domestic Violence 24-hour Help Line:877-863-6338